Social-psychological Analysis of Demand Response (DR) Helps Utilities Plan Power Supply

Achievement date: 

Demand response (DR) is a change in the power consumption of an electric utility customer to better match the demand for power with the supply. How people perceive and respond to utilities’ efforts to modify demand is central to utility decision-making in modifying demand for power. A team of undergraduate students working with researchers at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK) have completed cross-disciplinary studies to assess power consumers’ intentions and motivations to participate in demand-response under both normal and extreme conditions. They also studied the impact on energy assistance and efficiency programs and issues among low-income households. These efforts are supported by the Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT), an NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) supported by NSF and the U.S. Department of Energy and headquartered at UTK, with partner organizations including Northeastern University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Tuskegee University.


In DR, voluntary rationing may be accomplished by offering lower pricing in exchange for reduced power consumption¾or charging "surge" rates¾ during peak periods such as summer heat waves and winter deep freezes. Involuntary rationing may involve rolling blackouts, posing significant challenges for consumers. UTK engaged six undergraduate students in this DR research, which used large-scale surveys with representative samples to provide better understanding of residential energy behaviors during normal and critical conditions. These results are helping utilities implement DR and energy efficiency efforts, while considering energy practices and scheduling in low-income households. For greater future benefit, the studies helped to establish an interdisciplinary framework between social-psychology and power system modeling.


There are limits to what can be achieved on the supply side in energy production, because some generating units can take a long time to come up to full power, some units may be very expensive to operate, and demand can at times be greater than the capacity of all the available power plants put together. Methods for modifying demands are essential for utilities, especially given the increase in extreme weather events. The UTK studies explored:

  • Residents’ intention to participate in DR, requested financial incentives, and underlying motivations;
  • Socio-psychological variables affecting DR acceptance in normal and extreme conditions;
  • Energy justice issues in energy assistance and efficiency programs and issues among low-income households, an important aspect of CURENT’s cultural inclusion goals; and,
  • Energy practice and household characteristic differences across income groups and connections to demand flexibility.